The Sampson County Board of Commissioners meetings will not move to mornings, after concerns of commissioners’ scheduling conflicts and the desire for public involvement ultimately trumped a recommendation to change the meeting time from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m. to accommodate ailing commissioner John Blanton.
Blanton was absent from Monday night’s meeting, but said through county manager Ed Causey that, while his desire was to attend the meetings and mornings were more convenient, he did not wish to change the schedule at the expense of his fellow commissioners or the public.
Blanton has been receiving treatment at the VA Hospital in Fayetteville for health issues and, apart from his attendance at a July 17 meeting to approve the 2012-13 budget, his recuperation has kept him away from all meetings — that includes all budget work sessions — since early May. Causey visited Blanton last Friday to give him the Monday meeting agenda, and said the longtime commissioner was candid with his thoughts.
“Of course, I think he would like to be in a position to participate, but he stressed that he was certainly not interested in inconveniencing any of his fellow board members that might have to change schedules,” said Causey. “He certainly did not want anybody to select a schedule that would cause somebody else to have to be absent to accommodate him. He was also very cognizant of the public and their interest in participating in meetings. To that extent, he had some real reservations about changing a meeting schedule that may prevent some of the public from participating.”
At the July 17 meeting, chairman Billy Lockamy made a motion to change the meeting time for the August, September, October and November meetings, quickly seconded by Blanton. After commissioners Jarvis McLamb and Albert Kirby shared scheduling conflicts, commissioner Jefferson Strickland said it might be better to table the motion until the August meeting so commissioners could have the chance to look at their calendars and fully consider the request. Lockamy withdrew his motion at that time.
The matter was brought back to the board Monday.
“He’s a trooper and would like to be here and would like to participate,” said Causey, “but he was very reflective of not wanting to create inconvenience for anybody, particularly his fellow board members.”
Finance officer David Clack said Blanton brought the issue up once he saw the agenda for Monday’s meeting. As he went over the agenda with county staff, Blanton raised his concerns. Clack said the commissioner expressed apprehension with moving forward with something that may adversely affect public attendance and involvement.
“Of course, this was only for like three meetings,” Lockamy noted. He asked for any motion
“I appreciate the words of consideration that he has given through the manager,” McLamb said. “I appreciate that, but it would be a hardship on me for these next two or three meetings to be in the daytime. It is harvest time on the farm and that’s the way it’s going to be for the next two or three months. I spend a little extra effort trying to get here at night time.”
McLamb made a motion to keep the meeting time as it is. Kirby said he did not think it was necessary to make such a motion, because the meetings are already set at 7 p.m. The motion would have to be made to modify the current time. Causey agreed.
As with McLamb, Kirby said it would be impossible to get beyond scheduling conflicts with his day job, with a malpractice case in Cumberland County and a criminal case in Hoke County on the horizon.
“It would be a hardship on me, in my line of work as an attorney — trust me, 10 o’clock is a pretty active time and will be for me coming up in the next few weeks,” he said. “I can tell you that schedule, 10 a.m., is going to be very difficult and I probably wouldn’t be here. Let me just say this, because I don’t want to sound like I’m just beating up on Commissioner Blanton, I wish that we could accommodate him. I would really love to do that. That would be something that most certainly I would want to do. But, unfortunately, at 10 o’clock during the day, most people are working.”
County staff did offer that, if the board considered morning meetings, any necessary public hearings could be held at recessed sessions in the evenings to ensure the opportunity for public participation.
“I know there might be an attempt to try to accommodate this by having public things in the afternoon, but I think for individuals who are yearning for transparency in government, open government, where they can come see their commissioners vote, it would be wrong to have meetings at 10 o’clock,” Kirby said. “I think the press fought diligently to have the meetings at 7 o’clock in the afternoon so everybody could see everything that we do. So I think it should stay just as it is.”
Strickland conceded that he would like to see Blanton be able to attend some meeting and be recognized for his service to the board over the years. County staff has noted that the December meeting is scheduled to be a morning meeting.
“I would hope that at some point in time between now and what would be (his last meeting), to come to some type of consensus, some type of session that he could be here,” Strickland said. “I do appreciate his comments and I hope somehow or another, Mr. Manager, that we could convey a thought to Mr. Blanton about how well his remarks have been received by his fellow commissioners. We appreciate his attitude.”
Blanton, who will be stepping down at the end of this year after 17 years on the board, has expressed his intention to be at the rest of the meetings in his final term, which prompted Causey to make a recommendation last month to modify the meetings in some way. Lockamy said he made the motion to help Blanton.
“I honor the request of Commissioner Blanton that he not disturb any other commissioners. He made that statement and I will honor that decision,” said Lockamy. “It looks like it would bother some of the commissioners and the public too, to some degree. But, then again, the man has served 17, 18 years as commissioner. If he felt strong enough that he wanted to be here, I would sure support him any way I could to get him here. It looks as if he does not want to bother anybody and for the general public, so they can appear at a convenient time, I honor his request.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.